At four minutes past midday on Monday 21st February 2011, there took place, at the Swan Bank Methodist Church in Stoke on Trent’s mother town of Burslem, the farewell to the local radio icon Sam Plank.
Sam, less commonly known by his given name of Terry Hilton, was an old friend of mine – an old friend of so many people, in fact, that the Swan Bank church was cram packed full. You had to be on the family’s guest list to get inside.
Loudspeakers were set up to relay the service to the crowd of people that the church, large as it is, wasn’t big enough to hold. Potteries folk had lined the streets to pay their respects to Sam as the cortege wound its way from Hanley along the streets to Burslem.
One of Sam’s trade marks was that he had worn a red scarf when he was out and about his outside broadcast work and it was one of his requests was that everybody attending the church should wear something red. So, suited in a dark blue double-breasted pinstripe, I booted up in my red doc’ers and stuck a red silk handkerchief in my top pocket for good measure.
Sam’s son wore Sam’s actual red scarf; pastor Ashley Cooper, the minister conducting the service, wore a set of red trainers (I have to say this was a sight reminiscent of Tony Blair wearing those getting-down-with-the-kids jeans); there were women and girls with red roses in their hair; some mourners wore red scarves similar to Sam’s; Joan Walley (MP, Labour, Stoke North) wore a string of red beads.
Joan gave a speech that struck absolutely the right tone being both amusing and very moving.
The one hymn, How Great Thou Art! was chokingly emotional even to this non-believer.
You know, in truth, I didn’t know Sam that well at all. We had bumped into each other professionally several times over the years and he had interviewed me for his Radio Stoke and Signal Radio programmes. But, such was Sam’s sincerity, charm and charisma he immediately made you feel that you were not only a friend of his, but a special one at that.
I was Sam’s last interviewee an Signal Radio. The topic was my book Battling Jack. Sam asked proper good questions and read out parts of the book beautifully. He had incredible empathy.
To me and many others the hugely popular Sam Plank was the voice of Stoke on Trent. But, through his programmes he also gave a voice to many, many other people who otherwise would have remained unheard.
He took up their issues with councils and corporations and more often than not won the day for them. It is well known that having Sam on your side was at least half the battle in resolving a problem. There was love in the room on Monday right enough.
Sam fought his illness with great bravery and without self-pity. Huge condolences to Verity and her family. Lynda and I are thinking of you.
What can be said when some one like Sam Plank is lost to us?
Well from me, I reckon the very least Sam deserves is the highest personal accolade I as a southerner can give him:
PLANKY, MATE, YOU WERE ONE DIAMOND GEEZER.